Dr. Jim Somerville: Loving the World God Loves

Matthew 28:19-20 is often called the Great Commission, and most Baptists probably know it by heart. As Jesus sends his followers into the world he says: "Go and make disiciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (NIV). But there is another commission in the Gospels that is also pretty great. In John 20:21 Jesus tells his disciples: "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."

If that were the only commission we had we might spend more time asking, "How was Jesus sent?" and, "What was he sent to do?" But as I thought about it recently I was reminded of the best known verse in the Bible, John 3:16, which says: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." The word gave is not exactly the same as the word sent, not even in Greek, but the ideas are closely related. God loved the world. He loved it so much he gave/sent his one and only son. When Jesus tells his disciples that he is sending them as he was sent we can assume that it is for a similar purpose-to love the world God loves.

I was thinking about this recently as I walked around the block I've "adopted" in the church neighborhood. I was praying for the people who live inside those houses and apartments, but not sure I was making much of a difference. If only one of them would come outside so that I could make a disciple out of him, so that I could baptize him in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teach him to obey all that Jesus commanded! But no one did, leaving me with no alternative but to pray for those people. As I passed a motorcycle parked outside an apartment I said, "Lord, bless whoever sits on that seat." As I passed a house with a porch swing I prayed, "And bless the one who swings on that swing." As I turned the corner and saw a half-open garage door I said, "And bless the one who comes in and out of that door."

As I made my way around the block I began to feel for those people I was praying for, those invisible people. I wouldn't say it was love I was feeling for them but it was something like it. I was moving in the right direction. And that's when I began to think about John 3:16, and how God had given his one and only son because he loves the world, because he loves the person who sits on that motorcycle, and the one who swings on that porch swing, and the one who goes in and out of that garage door. I made a connection in that moment, between John 3:16 and John 20:21, and it came out like this: "I've been sent as Christ was sent to love the world God loves!"

I got so excited about it that when I went back to my office a little later I typed it in as my screen saver. Now if my computer is inactive for more than a few minutes these words begin to scroll across the screeen: "Sent as Christ was sent to Love the world God loves."

It's not exactly the Great Commission, but it's a good one, isn't it? Loving the world God loves? If I keep it up I may eventually meet the person who sits on that motorcycle seat. He may come out of his apartment one day with his helmet in his hand, just as I'm walking past, and I'll say, "Oh, there you are! I've been praying for you." And he'll say, "What?" And then I'll have to explain.

It will be embarrassing, but when I'm finished telling him that I've been sent as Christ was sent to love the world God loves, and that I've been praying for whoever it was that sat on that motorcycle seat, he might get an odd little smile on his face, and strap on his helmet, and ride off thinking about it. But that might be the first step in the twenty or thirty steps it would take to make a disciple out of him. And it would be for the right reason: not because I'm trying to recruit church members, but because I'm trying to love the world God loves. And if he parks his motorcycle in front of the sanctuary one Sunday morning, and comes inside to take a closer look at this strange church where they pray for people they don't even know, well,

That would be for the right reason too.

[Taken with permission from Dr. Jim Somerville's blog. Originally posted 9/27/2010]